True Freshman Christian Hackenberg Impressive in First Win for PSU

True Freshman Christian Hackenberg Impressive in First Win for PSU

Bill O’Brien had a difficult decision to make on his quarterbacks entering his second season as Penn State’s head football coach. With Matt McGloin graduated and off to the NFL (McGloin made the Raiders, by the way – although that may just be a sad statement about the state of the Raiders), it was down to junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson or blue-chip recruit Christian Hackenberg. While Ferguson was probably a bit more seasoned of the two, O’Brien went with the talented true freshman.

How’s that working out? So far, so good, as the Nittany Lions were able to hold off the Orange 23-17 to kick off their 2013 campaign.

Hackenberg got off to a bit of a slow start in his first collegiate game. Playing in front of a noticeably pro-PSU crowd at the Meadowlands, Hackenberg seemed limited initially by both the speed of the game and what was perhaps a conventional game plan. He was without his best target in junior Allen Robinson for the first half as well, suspended for disciplinary reasons that are yet to be revealed. Once Robinson got on the field though, the fireworks started. The shackles came off of Hackenberg, and the offense started gaining yards in bunches.

Hackenberg connected on 22 of 31 pass attempts for 273 yards and two touchdowns, one of those coming on a 51-yard catch-and-run by Robinson, the other a picture perfect 54-yard bomb down the middle to Geno Lewis. The young QB did make some mistakes, specifically the two interceptions he hurled, one of which set up the Orange at the 1-yard line with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter – Syracuse would cut the deficit to six there, giving them a chance to take the lead late. Otherwise, not bad for a first start.

Robinson appeared to be a big reason for the leap in Hackenberg’s performance. Although the freshman connected on his first six passes, they went for a grand total of 36 yards, and his first two drives stalled. Ferguson briefly got in the game, but was sacked and fumbled, which was the end of that. Hackenberg still had trouble maintaining consistent drives, and Penn State went into the locker room with just six points.

Enter Robinson, who caught passes of 24 yards and the 51-yard score on the opening two plays of the second half. He wound up finished with seven receptions for 133 yards in one half of football, although he did have a costly fumble. Still, the kid clearly has NFL talent.

Overall it was a promising sign for the future of Penn State, at least as far as under center is concerned. The fact that they needed 60 minutes to close out ‘Cuse is a little troubling in terms of how the team will fare this season, although with no postseason hopes in their second year of sanctions I suppose that takes some of the emphasis on wins and losses. This Hackenberg kid might be for real though, which could lead to some big seasons down the road if he continues to develop and mature. We’re looking forward to watching that.

>> BOX SCORE [ESPN]

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games — all losses — that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It's not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it's a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies' starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies' starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn't miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He's had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn't locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight baserunners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It's not fun. It's just something you deal with. It's not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco (see story). Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."